When I started karate classes many years ago, I often heard my instructor say “you can’t serve two masters.” He didn’t mean it in the biblical context (Matthew 6:24), but in terms of the intensity of a student’s desire to learn, and quality of their focus, and their management of time.
He believed that, regardless of age or belt level, you can only study karate from one instructor (school). For youth, it went one step further. For them, he believed that kids could not play any other organized sports or activities like cheerleading and gymnastics. He was seeking full commitment to the study of karate.
Before I go any further, let me make it perfectly clear that I do not endorse underbelts training in more than one karate style, particularly in kata. Stay with one style until achieving black belt level in it, and then talk to your instructor about your desire to learn a different style. Initially, I accepted the “one master” notion in my personal karate endeavors. For the majority of my underbelt years, I practiced with my one instructor in his dojang only (“dojang” is what those studying Korean martial arts call their dojo).
It was not until I achieved brown belt rank that my desire for more sparring practice increased. We practiced very little sparring at the dojang, and that lead me to secretly spar with other students an instructors. At that same time, my son, who started karate at age 5, wanted to play football while continuing his karate study.
We spoke with our instructor, and as expected, he was firmly against it. As a compromise for our son, we found an intramural soccer league that practiced and played games on the same day. It was a very informal league, and it satisfied him at the time.
As soon as he tested for black belt, we signed him up for football. Jump ahead almost 10 years, and I am running my own martial arts school! Initially, I had the same rule as my first instructor, and expressed my displeasure about students participating in football, baseball, and other activities while practicing karate. Some families made their child focus solely on karate while others let their children choose. I lost some good students. I believe some would have matured into very good black belts.
This gave me pause… and as I thought more about it, and came to reevaluate my position.
I asked myself a question: If a student decided to participate in other time consuming actives while studying karate what was the worst thing that could happen? Other than quitting karate, it would be that they would just miss the next test opportunity. That means that the road to black belt is a little longer for them.
Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so.
Now I meet with the parents and students and let them know the consequences of participating in multiple time consuming actives. Instead of potentially being eligible to test every 4 months the might have to sit out a test while their outside activity is in session, resulting in at least 8 months between tests. This change in position for me has worked well for me and my students. We have had soccer players, football players, baseball players and even a teenage member of the NC National Guard in the dojo. They train at their own pace and advance accordingly.
Earlier in this article, I mentioned that I used to train without the permission with other instructors to improve my sparring. Well, wouldn’t you know it… I faced the same problem in my dojo? No, none of our students were sneaking around. It relates to a change in approach to teaching sparring. We have changed from point sparring to full contact sparring.
With over 20 years of point sparring experience I knew that I needed help to implement the change. Rather than run the risk of having my students sneaking off like I did, I solicited the the support of a good friend who is the head of a local Bushiken Karate dojo. Not only does he invite our students to his bi-weekly fight night, he offers insight to all of us about the finer points of his art.
So, yes, you can serve more than one master. You must do so in an open, honest, and well thought out manner. You need to acknowledge that there are compromises in the speed of promotion or the depth of knowledge for that particular time. When other activities no longer compete for that time, a fuller and deeper study of martial arts is always waiting for you.
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